Thursday 13 March 2014

BNP: The dog that could have barked

Griffin: Short-sighted in more ways than one.
Tim Black of Spiked today offers his musings on why the BNP collapsed.  It's a superficially credible piece presenting some useful historical background, but I don't think Tim has this one quite right. 

In his words "The BNP, despite its efforts under Nick Griffin to present itself as a more moderate party, was never really going to appeal to even a significant minority of the British electorate. Rather, the best it could hope for was to capitalise on a small protest vote, not a large pro-racist groundswell. And as a result, its success was always going to be evanescent. All which raises a rather more pertinent question: why did so many in the press and in parliament feel the need to hype up the BNP as the second coming of fascism? It seems that posturing against Britain's rather non-existent far-right came a little too easy to rather too many."

But that protest vote potential was not by any means small - and even small protest votes can punch above their weight.  Even before the financial crisis, politicians were held in unprecedented low esteem, and with turnouts as they were (and still are), even a small party can do a great deal of damage in marginal constituencies, and set the agenda for the national debate.

At their peak, the BNP was forcing a debate our rulers would have preferred not to have, and the BNP didn't even need to win seats to do it. The New Labour government had established a new precedent for aloof political correctness and the anti-politics public sentiment was as acute as it is now, if not more so.  The establishment was worried by the BNP with good reason.

The BNP was the ultimate "up yours" to the establishment. It was totally unsanitised, unapologetic, the very antithesis of PC, highly organised, well disciplined, and unlike Ukip, had a consistent strand of ideology throughout all of its output - and was doing very well from it. The message to its members was you either like it or you don't. If you don't, go away. It knew itself, it knew its agenda and it was not prepared to compromise, which made it completely unique in the UK political sphere, while Ukip was running scared.

At one point the BNP website was the number one political website in the UK, it ran good stories (that checked out) and it weaved them into its own narrative. It's trolling of the mainstream media was absolutely sublime. From obscurity, it scored a million votes with no help from the media. Ukip had the Daily Express singing its praises and the Telegraph was always sympathetic, but the entire media establishment put up an anti-BNP firewall, yet could not stop its inexorable growth. The more shrill the media became, the better it did.
Insomuch as politicians did not like the upstart BNP rocking the boat, they also upset the media's agenda.
At the very height of the BNP surge it was eating into the Ukip vote and activist base, which is what prompted Ukip to run its ongoing anti-immigration policy. Incidentally, that is why Ukip is happy to take on former BNP activists because in many cases it is taking its own people back. The BNP was hoovering up the working class old Labour vote in the North, and to right-wingers it looked like the BNP was going places when Ukip struggled to be seen as anything but a single issue party.  There is no question about it, the BNP was breaking out of its racist cul-de-sac and was starting to turn heads.

The party had a well defined manifesto, with unparalleled detail, that a great many reasonable people could get behind.  Beyond that you would have to dig much deeper to find signs of its sinister ethno-nationalist ideology.  It may not have had the potential to turn a Tory, but it was fishing in the pond of those who had never voted, which is a large pond to fish in.  That was a threat the establishment could not afford to ignore, especially when local elections are turned on just a handful of votes.

The BNP was following the successful model of the Lib-Dems by building up a strong local activist base, with a long term strategy, building up local power-bases that the main parties simply could not hope to rival.  So what went wrong?

What killed the BNP was Nick Griffin. On the back of BNP success, Griffin, in his arrogance, changed the party constitution and made it his own personal plaything. He made himself leader for life, started running up lots of debt, and then merged party finances with his own finances. When he hit financial trouble, party donations then went to his personal creditors without them ever appearing on the party books. In the wake of this, amidst protest, he sacked his most capable activists and writers, leaving a rump of half a dozen weirdos running the show, then the activist base peeled off and the party was left with no money to operate. If the establishment wanted to hobble the rise of the BNP, they could have picked no better man that Nick Griffin to do it.

Had Griffin not been such a corrupt and foolish individual, the BNP would have wiped out Ukip and be an actual threat to the Lib-Dem's position as the third UK party, in the way that some polls foolishly suggest that Ukip is.  That politicians and mainstream journalists talked up the threat of the BNP tells us that they were taking the BNP threat seriously.  In that regard, they showed a greater political awareness than Tim Black.

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